The history of the Air Force Institute of Technology dates back to the fledgling days of powered flight when it became clear that the progress of military aviation was dependent on highly educated officers capable of leading the new world of aviation to its full potential.
The original idea of a military aeronautical school was proposed by Army Colonel Thurman Bane, Commanding Officer of McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio based on his belief that “No man can efficiently direct work about which he knows nothing.”
With War Department approval, the Air School of Application was established in 1919 at McCook Field with seven officers enrolled, Colonel Bane as the Commandant and Lieutenant Edwin Aldrin, astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s father, as the Chief of the School Section.
In 1920, as part of the creation of the Air Service, the school became the Air Service Engineering School and graduated its first class that September.
The 1920s was an era when practically every flight was an experiment and when world records were continually made and broken. Air races, altitude and endurance flights filled an important need – calling attention to the potentialities of flight when aviators were still thought of as kite-flyers or crazy birdmen.
Many of the Air Service’s famous test pilots – among them Lieutenant John Macready, Lieutenant James Doolittle and Captain Donald Bruner – went through the Engineering School.
In 1926, when Congress authorized the creation of the Air Corps, the school was renamed the Air Corps Engineering School.
Originally designed to provide technical education for senior officers holding command positions, the school’s mission expanded to include the requirement of preparing younger officers to fill positions in research and design.
The next year, the Air Corp Engineering School moved from McCook Field to Wilbur Wright Field – a 5,000 acre tract of land donated by the citizens of Dayton.
When the Air Corps Engineering School was forced to suspend classes shortly after Pearl Harbor, it had graduated more than 200 officers.
Among these were many of the Nation’s foremost leaders in military aviation and space. A few of those, such as General Jimmy Doolittle, General George Kenney and General Bernard Schriever would go on to become heroes of the war and fathers of today’s modern Air Force.
The School remained inactive until 1944 when, due to an emergency need for expert engineering officers, it reopened as the Army Air Forces Engineering School.
In 1946, following the end of the war, the school was officially re-opened as the Army Air Forces Institute of Technology by Lieutenant General Nathan Twining Commanding General of the Air Materiel Command.
The original faculty consisted of eight civilians and five officers, with an initial enrollment of 189 students.
However, operations did not go as planned. By the second week of classes it was clear that most of the students were ill prepared. Regular classes were canceled and students were directed to attend a 6 week intensive math review.
When the Air Force became an independent service in 1947, the Institute was renamed the Air Force Institute of Technology. Over the next three years its name changed again to the United States Air Force Institute of Technology, and its command jurisdiction switched from Air Materiel Command to Air University.
Towards the end of the 1940’s, the Institute’s Executive Officer Colonel Clarence Lober, composed a song which captured the sentiments of many students attending AFIT.
In the early 1950’s the Institute was composed of two colleges: Engineering and Maintenance, and Logistics and Procurement. These colleges were later combined to create the Resident College.
In 1954, President Eisenhower signed Senate Bill 3712, giving the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology authority to grant degrees. Two years later the Institute granted its first undergraduate engineering degrees.
The Institute became a graduate school in 1960 when it was granted accreditation at the master’s level, and in 1965 AFIT’s accreditation was extended to the PhD level.
The Cold War brought the start of the U.S.-Soviet space race and in 1959 the government announced the names of what came to be called the Original Seven: the first Americans selected to attempt space flight under NASA’s Mercury Program.
Two of the seven, Captain Leroy “Gordon” Cooper and Captain Virgil “Gus” Grissom, were 1956 Institute graduates. Their contributions to manned space flight would make history.
In 1961, Gus Grissom became the second American in space, making a suborbital flight in the Liberty Bell capsule.
In 1963, Gordon Cooper orbited Earth for 34 hours in Faith 7, completing the longest American flight at that time.
In 1965, while aboard Gemini 5, Gordon Cooper and his crewmate completed the longest flight on record by staying in orbit for 8 days: proving man could survive in space long enough for a trip to the moon.
In addition to these space pioneers, many other Institute graduates joined NASA’s elite group of astronauts including:
Dr. Guy Bluford, Jr.
Albert Crews, Jr.
Dr. John Fabian
Dr. Kevin Ford
James Halsell, Jr.
Richard “Mike” Mullane
And Robert Rushworth, a 1958 Institute graduate, who in 1963, flew the X-15 rocket powered aircraft to an altitude of 285,000 feet thus qualifying him for astronaut wings.
In other areas of the Institute, the Air Installations Special Staff School was established in 1947 to cover all aspects of air base construction, operation, and maintenance. Since then, the school has gone through eight different name changes, finally taking on its current name of The Civil Engineer School.
Meanwhile, in response to the growing need for trained senior officers qualified to deal effectively with Air Force worldwide logistics problems, an experimental six-month Advanced Logistics Course was started by the Institute in 1955.
The experiment was a renowned success, and a new school of logistics was established, becoming the current School of Systems and Logistics in 1963.
In 1964, Building 640, Bane Hall, was dedicated as the new home of the School of Engineering. Since its dedication, the building has served as a hub for the addition of newer facilities as the Institute expanded in size.
By the late 1960’s, much of the Institute’s resident population had either been to Southeast Asia or was likely to go soon. About a third of the Engineering class that graduated in June 1968 was scheduled for duty in Southeast Asia.
As the conflict continued, and the rough economy of the 1970’s took hold, the financially-concerned Congress cut student quotas, while the Air University directed a reduction in AFIT programs. These cuts spurred an attempt to strengthen the core of AFIT, including the advent of what would become today’s distance learning programs. One example, “Telectures,” used videotaped lectures and speaker phones to conduct classes across the country.
During the latter half of the 1970’s, as the United State’s economic situation improved, construction began on Building 641. Upon completion in 1977, the Systems and Logistics Building was dedicated to General Nathan Twining.
Soon after, the Air University, and thus AFIT, joined Air Training Command – what is now the Air Education and Training Command – the largest Air Force Major Command. Today, AFIT remains an AETC unit.
Throughout the 1980’s, as technological advancements continued at an ever quickening pace, AFIT began developing programs to study such high tech areas as information processing, electro-optics, radiation hardening, advanced composites, and space structures. All these avenues of research worked to keep AFIT at the forefront of high-technology.
The Institute discontinued its undergraduate program in 1985 after awarding a total of 920 bachelor’s degrees, deciding instead to focus on graduate and doctoral programs.
In 1987, to facilitate this higher level focus and research capabilities, construction began on Building 642, Kenney Hall. Designed as a science and research center, Kenney Hall joined Twining and Bane Halls, creating a consolidated facility and serving as the main entrance to AFIT.
In 1992, the Institute reorganized from three to four schools by removing all graduate programs from the School of Systems and Logistics to establish a new school, the Graduate School of Logistics and Acquisition Management.
The next year saw the ground breaking ceremony for Building 643, the current home of the Civil Engineer School.
AFIT continued restructuring throughout the 1990’s and merged its two resident graduate schools into the Graduate School of Engineering and Management in 1999.
The new millennium brought growth and change - shaping AFIT into the school it is today. In 2001, AFIT completed a 30,000 square foot laboratory, Building 644, containing clean room facilities, state of the art physics and environmental labs, and a new wind tunnel.
In 2004, under the initiative of the Secretary of the Air Force, James Roche, AFIT’s first enlisted students —eight Air Force and six Marine Corps senior noncommissioned officers – were awarded master’s degrees. More than 80 have graduated since then emphasizing the importance of the enlisted force to military advancements in science and technology.
As another first for AFIT, in 2006, Brigadier General Paula Thornhill became AFIT’s first female Commandant. Under her leadership, AFIT began offering its first master’s degree level distance learning program in System’s Engineering – a huge advancement from the days of “Telelectures”.
The newest structure on AFITs campus, Building 646, home to the Air Force Center for Systems Engineering and the AFIT Command Section opened in 2008. This state of the art building increased AFIT’s overall footprint by 50,000 square feet.
The Institute has also long been an active participant in the larger education community. In 1967, AFIT became a member of the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education.
In 1995, AFIT joined with two other local institutions: Wright State University and the University of Dayton, to form a consortium called the Dayton Area Graduate Studies Institute.
This consortium has since expanded by adding The Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati as affiliate members.
Home to the Air Force Center for Systems Engineering and the Air Force Cyberspace Technical Center of Excellence, AFIT also houses four other research centers: the Advanced Navigation Technology Center, the Center for Operation Analysis, the Center for Measurement and Signature Intelligence Studies and Research, and the Center for Directed Energy.
Comprised of the Graduate School of Engineering and Management, the School of Systems and Logistics, and The Civil Engineer School, AFIT is a one of a kind educational institution.
From humble beginnings, with a class of seven officers studying planes made of wood, wire and fabric, to graduates who have walked on the moon, AFIT’s premier education and research are even more important and relevant today as we shape the ever changing world of aviation, space and cyberspace technology. AFIT consistently provides a great value for our Nation with unmatched speed and flexibility to respond to changing mission requirements. Moving through the twenty-first century, AFIT continues to deliver world-class defense-focused technical graduate education, professional continuing education, research and consultation in air, space, and cyberspace to sustain the technological supremacy of America's Air and Space Forces.